Turning a chore into an adventure

Starting small

Growing silverbeet

I’ve been dreaming of a kitchen garden bursting with herbs, rows upon rows of seasonal produce, and a food forest overflowing with citrus, berries and nuts.

We are moving from our urban Newcastle home "up the valley" to a small rural Hunter Valley property for a tree change. I’m excited that I’ll have ample space to grow food. However, my initial enthusiasm has morphed into overwhelm. There’s a water supply to organise, our soil is degraded and hydrophobic and I somehow need to protect our garden from rabbits and kangaroos.

Not knowing where to start, I contact local sustainable farming guru Mark Brown of Purple Pear Farm for advice. Mark reminds me to have fun. He suggests that success is more likely if I enjoy the experience.

"Having fun starts with starting small so that the garden activity is achievable. It is also important to start with vegetables you and your family love to eat."

I’m going to heed Marks advice and start small by growing a few pots of silverbeet and its pretty relation rainbow chard. By growing in pots I can start growing now and take the pots with us when we make the move towards the end of the year.

I’m going to sow seeds directly into pots filled with potting mix enriched with a little compost, well-rotten manure and rock mineral fertiliser.

The outer leaves should be ready to harvest in only 6 – 7 weeks. I love that silverbeet can be harvested as you need by picking the outer leaves and that plants can go on producing for months and months. I’ve had some plants last for several years.

Twisting the stalks off at the base, rather than cutting, reduces the amount of leaf damage in later pickings. Harvesting this way, from the outside, prevents plants from going to seed.

There seems an endless range of ways to eat silverbeet: quiche, gratin, frittata, lasagne, cannelloni, omelette, pie, soup, or as a simple steamed side. I’m particularly fond of steamed silverbeet with a sprinkle of nutmeg. The young leaves can also be eaten as salad leaves and the stems can be diced and cooked like celery.

With so many ways to prepare Silverbeet, perhaps my family won’t even notice that I’m only serving them one type of green veggie.

If you were to grow one vegetable only, what would it be?

[This column appeared in The Newcastle Herald Weekender magazine 17 November 2012]